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The trouble with e-book licenses in libraries

January 18, 2013

by Sarah Kosofsky

With the shift from print to digital, many readers have been curious to see how libraries will rent out ebooks to customers, since electronic materials will become more and more widely adopted in the future.

Unfortunately, as NPR’s All Things Considered highlights, problems have arisen regarding publishers’ licensing models, problems that severely limit the electronic content that libraries can provide for their patrons.  Some titles that patrons want to see in the libraries in electronic format are titles that the publisher isn’t able to license to the library.

In addition to the lack of availability of some titles, another problem is that of pricing structures.  With print materials, a library purchases a resource once and doesn’t have to pay to keep it in its collection.  With many e-books, the model is drastically different: libraries have to re-pay for the license after the e-book is checked out a certain number of times.  This creates a financial strain on an institution that oftentimes already has to deal with financial struggles.

Each publisher also has a different model and pricing structure, which doesn’t help the e-lending situation.

What might help both the publishers and the librarians is if the model was altered to be either less expensive or to be a one-time purchase deal, like print.  Although a model such as this may not initially strike the publishers as very profitable, it allows the librarians to purchase more electronic content for their library, which would be beneficial to publishers, as a wider range of their products would be distributed and read.

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